I have a suspicion that Chaz Bundick might be trolling me when we finally get to talking on a Friday evening in mid-November.
“I told them that all they had to do was give you my phone number,” he says, with what I can only assume was an impish grin.
After asking me to reschedule five times – including four times that day – I’m surprised to actually get him on the line.
As Toro y Moi, Bundick has put out some of my favorite records of the past few years, but whatever fanboy enthusiasm I would normally have had to suppress has been mildly deflated by our one-sided game of phone tag.
Nonetheless, Bundick sounds cheerful, and more than happy to discuss Michael, the full-length debut of his solo side-project, Les Sins. And, honestly, it’s hard to stay mad at the guy when he’s so excited about his work.
Michael is distinctly a Les Sins album – that is to say, definitely not a Toro y Moi release. For each bright, woozy chord progression you’d expect to sing along to on a Toro y Moi album, there’s a dense dance beat, catchy motifs, and the occasional challenging sequence on Michael. This is something to groove to in dark spaces – music to play when lights are low and you’re trying to just slink the night away.
Suitably, Bundick knows this, and will be performing just a handful of intimate shows around the country to promote the album.
What was the motivation behind the change in style for Les Sins ? Michael is a really high-energy album, as compared to your output as Toro y Moi. It’s different.
I really wanted to do this kind of music for a while, and I knew I didn’t want to put it out under Toro. I guess it started out in 2009 – around the same time as Toro – but I wanted to differentiate all the styles of music that I like to make. Hopefully, nothing gets labeled as strictly electronic, or strictly dance, or anything like that. It’s just having another outlet.
What was the composition and songwriting process for this album? How did Michael differ from the rest of your discography?
The main difference was that I wasn’t worried about having a hook or a vocal or a verse for each song. It’s different for dance tracks; I feel like you have to be more deliberate about things. You have to know where the beat should drop out, and where it should come back in. I don’t know. [Laughs] There’s no right or wrong way, but that was the main thing I was going for.
Do you normally write songs by yourself, or is there more of a collaborative band input?
I do all of the writing and recording. It’s just sort of been my thing for a while now. Everyone is into it as it is, and so am I. I think the only thing that’s changing and making me think about my approach to music is the fact that I have to play it live now, but with Les Sins I get to start over and think strictly about headphones and speakers.
You grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and people don’t really think of it as a hotbed for the musical styles that you’re producing. What was your experience there? What informed your musical palette and knowledge?
[Laughs] Right. I guess for me it was my college radio station, WUSC. Ever since I was a kid, I would listen to it with my dad in the car – their big thing was that they’d play everything that wasn’t Top 40. I listened to that growing up, and first found out about Saddle Creek [Records], and that whole movement, and eventually Brainfeeder, and new genres. So, that eventually turned into me finding out about dance music on the Internet.
Were you a big Napster user? Or what were the others – Morpheus? AudioGalaxy?
[Laughs] Nah, I couldn’t figure it out! I was so jealous of all my friends who were downloading music at that early Internet age. Actually, one time a friend burned a CD for me – At The Drive In. That changed my life, and I became obsessed with that band through downloading their music.
I remember the first time I heard “One Armed Scissor”, and it just blew my mind. I didn’t even know that music like that was possible until then.
It was that song actually, that drew me in. That’s the first one I listened to – that he burned for me on that mix.
How do you utilize the Internet now? Do you feel like you’re both a creator of content and a consumer, or are you really just focused on the production aspect?
I find out about most music via the Internet now – not even radio. It’s kind of my main use for going online. And it’s not necessarily “scoping out the competition,” but more-so just checking out what people are doing sonically. If you hear a dance track that was bounced on a cassette, as opposed to made on a computer, that’s interesting to me – it’s good enough change.
How much of the stuff you put together on Michael is sampled versus original production?
Oh, it’s about 95% original stuff. There’s programmed drums on all of the songs, and then there are little vocal snippets here and there, but when it comes to pads and synths and stuff, I was playing and programming all of it.
That’s kind of how I’ve always wanted to be for most of my approach to music. After I did Causers of This and the Freaking Out EP, I wanted to get away from sampling heavily, and not have it be so reliant. I just have wanted it to be a more independent project than one depending on samples.
How many dates will you be performing in support of Michael and Les Sins?
Just twelve shows. It’s a side project, as of right now, and I think if it got more attention, maybe I’d play a little more, but it’s just for fun. So, the plan is to just play these twelve shows, promote the album, meet some Les Sins fans, and hear it on [sound] systems that I’ve never heard it on before.
Is there another Toro y Moi album in the works, or are you taking a step back and exploring other avenues?
I’ve just been taking this whole year off and working on new ideas, but I’m always really exploring and working on Toro stuff all the time. But for now just supporting the Michael stuff.
What are your plans for the holiday season? Are you coming back to the East coast, or kicking it in California?
Yeah, coming back to the East Coast. It’s always fun to do that for the holidays. But I’m playing a DJ set for New Year’s Eve in Portland, at Holocene’s. It should be a great time.